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Captain Ciaran McKeever boosts Armagh

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke has been given a massive boost ahead of Sunday’s National Football League Division One shoot-out with Donegal now that captain Ciaran McKeever has escaped a two-match ban and will be able to fill his normal centre-half-back berth.

McKeever was shown a red card by referee Martin Duffy just before the start of the second-half of his team’s game against Laois for allegedly kicking an opposing player in the tunnel and the Central Competitions Control Committee proposed the two-match ban.

But McKeever took his case to the Central Hearings Committee on the basis that his dismissal occurred on the word of fourth official Stephen Johnston (Louth) and his sanction was quashed.

The matter went back to the CCCC but they have decided that there is no further evidence to charge McKeever with anything.

O’Rourke has already hailed McKeever’s inclusion as “a great boost” to the Armagh side.

“He is a superb player and a terrific leader. We are delighted to have him available to us,” he said.

Meanwhile, three of the country’s top players share the view that the concluding stages of the National Football League can provide a further bonus for Ulster in what is proving a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.

Earlier this year the fall-out from the Derrytresk v Dromid Pearses club tie and then the on-field rows which marred the Armagh v Cork and Monaghan v Kildare fixtures seriously tarnished the image of the province.

And things got no better when the Armagh county board made allegations their captain Ciaran McKeever had been subjected to racial taunts in the defeat to Laois.

Suddenly the entire landscape has been transformed. Loughgiel were crowned All Ireland club hurling champions prior to Crossmaglen retaining their All Ireland football crown last weekend.

On Saturday St Michael’s College Enniskillen will play St Mary’s Edenderry (Offaly) in the All Ireland Colleges final at Croke Park.

Now Ulster’s stunning successes at club and schools level have provided an additional spur for those teams with their sights fixed on achieving targets in the National League on Sunday.

And Danny Hughes (Down), Charlie Vernon (Armagh) and Barry Owens (Fermanagh) firmly believe the province can be shown in an even better light.

Hughes is part of a Down side that can still make the league semi-finals if they beat Laois and other results go their way.

“I think that Ulster’s triumphs at All Ireland level in both club codes have been magnificent and the gauntlet has now been thrown down to the rest of us,” he said.

Vernon, a driving force in the Armagh line-up, is equally upbeat, conscious that only a win over Donegal in Ballybofey will secure his team’s place in Division One for next year. “There is a good spirit within this Armagh side and Paddy O’Rourke’s courage in bringing in new players is being rewarded,” he said.

While Armagh face a tense battle in their bid to stay in the top tier, Fermanagh look certain to jump from Division Four into Division Three — a fact that particularly pleases full-back Owens.

“It’s all a contrast to last year,” reflected Owens. “Peter Canavan has come in and results have flowed. We’re taking nothing for granted, but it would be great to play at a higher level next year.”

Belfast Telegraph

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